"Listen my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere - "
These opening lines of Longfellow's poem, and the thrilling story which follows, have fascinated us for many years. History has recorded the details of the famous ride, and the incidents connected with it; but Masons know little about Paul Revere that arouses enthusiasm. It is my purpose tonight to bring out the important facts regarding him and to show the setting which brings our patriot brother closer to us.
The forefathers of Paul Revere were Huguenots, that brave sect of French Protestants who for many years defied Rome and the King of France. The Huguenots maintained their identity and churches in spite of edicts and persecutions. In 1540, six of their villages were completely destroyed and the inhabitants driven out, ravaged and murdered at the behest of the King. On August 24, 1572, the Huguenots were the victims of one of the most despicable massacres that ever took place - the Massacre of St. Bartholomew - in which more than six thousand of them were sought out in Paris and murdered in a human hunt lasting three days. The waters of the seine ran red with blood; the bodies of the victims were so numerous that the current was unable to carry them away; and for many miles the banks of the river were covered with their remains. When the news of the massacre reached Rome a three day's celebration was ordered by the ecclesiastical authorities. King Charles of France, who, together with his mother, had been influenced by Church leaders to order the massacre, was congratulated on the service thus performed for the Holy Roman Church.
The persecutions to which the Huguenots were subjected caused more than four hundred thousand French to leave the country and settle elsewhere. Among those who fled was Simon de Revoire, who moved to the Island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Simon's brother Isaac, being a man with a large family, stayed on in a remote part of France, later sending one of his sons, Apollo de Revoire, to his Uncle Simon, at the age of thirteen. After a time his uncle sent the Nephew to Boston, where he was apprenticed to a Goldsmith. Here he learned the secrets of the trade, and after a visit to Guernsey, he returned to America with the intention of making this country his home. His first step was to change his name to ne more easily pronounced by his English speaking neighbors, and he was henceforth known as Mr. Paul Revere.
Establishing himself in business as a gold and silversmith, Revere married Miss Deborah Hitchborn in 1729. Twelve children were born of this union. The Paul Revere we are discussing tonight was the third of these, born January 8, 1735.
We learn that Revere received his education at the famous old "North Grammar School" kept by Master John Tileson, who taught school in Boston for eighty years. He was especially famed for his skill in penmanship. Doubtless we have here the foundation for one of Revere's later activities - engraved lettering.
Young Paul Revere followed in his father's footsteps as a Gold and Silversmith. Specimens of his work are still treasured to this day in some old New England families, and give ample evidence of his artistic skill. Inspired by long experience in embellishing the articles manufactured by him, Revere undertook the art of engraving on copper, with marked success. Books of the 17th and 18th centuries show that this was a popular form of illustrating. Many of Revere's pictures were political caricatures and cartoons; and among the best of his works is an engraving depicting the Boston Massacre, which was extensively copied in Europe. He also designed bookplates, and in later years furnished the engravings from which Masonic certificates were made.
The outbreak of the French and Indian Wars in 1756 prompted him to enlist in the British Colonial service. Commissioned a second lieutenant of artillery by Governor Sterling, he participated in the expedition against Crown Point under the command of General John Winslow. Here he received the military training which enabled him to give excellent service in later years as major, lieutenant- colonel, and colonel of artillery in the armed forces of Massachusetts.
Upon his return from military service, Revere was married in 1757 to Miss Sarah Orne of Boston. Seven children were born of this union. After sixteen years of wedded life, the faithful wife died, leaving Revere a widower at 38 with a large family on his hands, a business to look after and political events engrossing his attention. To quote Revere, he found his household "In sore need of a Mother," and within a short time after the death of his first wife and infant child, he married Miss Rachel Walker, ten years his junior. Eight children were added to the six of his first marriage.
The Stamp Act of 1765 was one of the causes of the American Revolution. This act provided for a tax on certain articles imported by the colonies. The imposition of this tax was not so objectionable in itself to the colonists as the fact that they had no voice in the matter. This right, they felt, belonged to them under the Magna Charta, the foundation of English Liberty. The opponents of the act formed themselves into bands known as the Sons of Liberty. Meetings were conducted with great secrecy, those in Boston being ultimately held at the Green Dragon tavern. It is of more than passing interest to note that St. Andrew's Lodge, many of whose members participated in the stirring events of the Revolution, purchased this tavern March 31, 1864.
Among the Massachusetts leaders of the Sons of Liberty were Samuel Adams and John Hancock, to whom Revere attached himself. Not gifted with speech as were his associates, he nevertheless reached the public through his clever cartoons on political events of the day. He also carried secret dispatches to the leaders of the Sons of Liberty in New York and Philadelphia; and his unquestioned integrity and excellent memory served the Colonists well when written word could not be safely conveyed.
In 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed, except as to tea, and this served to quiet matters somewhat for a time; but the determination of King George III to force the tea tax upon his colonists made them all the more determined to resist the measure. Cargoes of tea were shipped and landed under protest. Merchants throughout the colonies agreed not to handle the commodity, and very little was sold, such as did trickle into the channels of trade being handled by Troy shopkeepers.
The arrival of the Dartmouth on November 28, 1773, caused the Sons of Liberty to call a mass meeting which was attended by over seven thousand people. Resolutions were passed urging that the tea not be landed, and that it be sent back to England in the same ships. Guards were placed to make sure that the tea was not brought in surreptitiously. Another meeting was called on the 30th, at which the officers of two additional ships which had arrived in the meantime were made to promise that they would leave the harbor without unloading their tea cargoes. Governor Hutchinson, however, interfered with this solution of the problem by forbidding the issuance of clearance papers until the cargoes should be discharged. The rest of the story has been recorded in history's pages. A group of patriots, disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded the vessels, and destroyed three hundred and forty-two chests of tea valued at $90,000.
It has been asserted by many writers that the Freemasons of the colony had a large part in the destruction of the tea cargoes. Definite information is not available, but contemporaneous records of unimpeachable character lead us to believe that there is some truth in the assertions. The records of Saint Andrew's Lodge, of which Paul Revere was a member, show that on the night of November 30th, 1773 - the night for the annual election of officers - only seven members were present. No election was held, and the presence of only seven members given as the reason according to the entries in the lodge minutes.
As a result of the Tea Party, laws were passed in Parliament closing the port of Boston. These measures only served to inflame the people. Revere was soon in the saddle again, carrying messages to enlist the support of the southern provinces in behalf of Massachusetts. The Massachusetts House of Representatives reorganized under the name of the "The Provincial Congress" and voted to enroll twelve thousand Minute Men. Revere made further trips south, and in December, 1773, carried news north to Portsmouth, N.H., that the importation of military stores had been forbidden by Parliament, and that a large garrison was coming to occupy Fort William and Mary at the entrance to the harbor. The Sons of Liberty thereupon surprised the fort and removed upwards of one hundred barrels of powder and fifteen cannon.
Governor Gage of Massachusetts became alarmed at these aggressive acts of the colonists. Outlying stores of gunpowder and arms were called in, and every precaution taken to guard against further surprises. The Sons of Liberty soon learned that the British were preparing for action. On April 18, 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren, Grand Master of Massachusetts, who was to give his life for his country two months later at the battle of Bunker Hill, learned that troops were gathering on Boston Common. Fearing for the safety of Samuel Adams and John Hancock, Warren sent for Revere and begged him to go to Lexington to warn these men. Revere had been to Lexington a few days before, and gravely doubted the possibility of getting through the lines in event the enemy should form, had arranged, by a show of lanterns, to indicate the route taken by the British. Revere then made the ride which has preserved his name to posterity, as graphically told with certain poetic license by Longfellow.
Paul Revere's ride, however, was not the end of his activities in the patriot cause. After the British had vacated Boston, being harassed by Washington's troops, it was found that the cannon had been disabled by the removal of the carriages. Revere invented a new type, and the guns were again placed in commission.
In July, 1776, Revere was commissioned an officer in a new regiment raised for the defense of the town and harbor of Boston. His important duties and services ultimately won him the rank of colonel of artillery. Adverse conditions made his position a difficult one, but he steadfastly fulfilled his duties and made the best of a bad situation. In 1779 he participated in a expedition against the British in what is now Maine. Through mismanagement on the part of some military and naval commanders, the expedition was a failure, and the soldiers made their way back to Boston in scattered groups.
In addition to his military service, Revere was called upon in 1775 to engrave the currency of the Colony of Massachusetts. In 1776 he engaged in the manufacture of gunpowder, sorely needed by the Americ
was employed to oversee the casting of cannon.
The war services of Paul Revere did not conclude his service to the new nation. He contributed to the economic welfare of his community by establishing an iron foundry, and in 1792 began casting church bells, many of which are still in existence. A "Hardware" store - as jeweler's shops were called in those days - established by him in 1783, enabled him to dispose of the silverware which he continued to manufacture. He invented a process for treating copper which enabled him to hammer and roll it while hot, a process of great value in shipbuilding. In 1800 he established a foundry for rolling copper in large sheets. This was such an important industry that the government of the United States loaned him $10,000, to be repaid in the form of sheet copper. This was the first copper rolling mill in the country, and dispensed with the necessity which had existed before of importing this commodity from England. Robert Fulton's steam engines were equipped with copper boilers made from Revere's plates. Revere also covered the bottom of the Frigate "Constitution" - better known as "Old Ironsides" - with sheet copper. The business was incorporated in 1828 as the Revere Copper Company, and is still conducted in Canton, Mass.
Revere's life, and the services he rendered to the country, are sufficient in themselves to endear him to every patriotic American. Yet, we, as Masons, can claim a still closer tie. Paul Revere was made a Mason in Saint Andrew's Lodge on September 4, 1760, being the first Entered Apprentice to receive that work in this body. In 1770 he became its Master; in 1783, when St, Andrew's Lodge was divided on the question of remaining under the Grand Lodge of Scotland, from which body it had received its Charter dated November 30, 1756; or affiliating with the new Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, he was one of the twenty-three who voted to withdraw from the old relationship. A new lodge was formed in September, 1784, under the name of Rising States Lodge, and Revere was elected its Master. He made the jewels for this lodge, and engraved and printed certificates of membership and notices. He served as Grand Master of Massachusetts from 1795 to 1797, inclusive, assisting Governor Samuel Adams in laying the corner stone of the Massachusetts State House, July 4, 1795, on which occasion he delivered a stirring address.
His charities were quiet and unostentatious. He founded the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics Association in 1795, and served as its president from its founding until 1799, when de declined any further office, although continuing his interest.
His domestic life was peaceable and happy. The decease of his second wife in 1815 left him a lonely old man. Revere himself "Passed Out With the Tide" on May 10, 1818, and was buried in Granary Burial Ground where his old friends, Hancock and Adams, had preceded him.
Quiet, unassuming, without great gifts as an orator or statesman, he nevertheless engraved his name on that which is far more enduring than the metals of his Craft - the pages of his country's history and the hearts of his country's citizens. Behind him was the martyrdom of his Huguenot ancestors; around him was the inspiration of Freemasonry's ideals; within his vision of the future was a great representative government of a free people wherein religious liberty should be both a fundamental principle and an inalienable right. And so he served with the talent that he had in the humbler spheres of everyday life as well as in the greater and more spectacular crisis in the life of his commonwealth. Unselfish service was his ambition and his watchword, his biography and his epitaph. Freemasonry and America honor most the Paul reveres of the nation, who from day to day, in every time of history and walk of life, thoughtfully and patriotically serve mankind.
If, however, we are to come to the fullest possible realization of what the life of a man like Paul Revere means to his country and to his Fraternity, we must go further than a mere personal estimate. No matter how effective his life may be in arousing our pride and stimulating our efforts, we must still take one more step. It will not do merely to judge a life like his according to the standards of this day. We must realize the results of his work in the light of the conditions which he faced.
I wonder if we can visualize the Colonial period of this country's history? The scattered settlements, the log cabins grouped about stockades out in the wilderness, the wide distances separating the towns and villages, and the uninhabited, waste districts between; the bridle paths over the mountains, the narrow. almost impassable roads with the lumbering stage coaches passing up and down at irregular and infrequent intervals; a time when it cost a shilling and more to carry a letter; a country without telegraph, without typewriter, without railroad - and a people who could not even dream of such things as these.
Even so the picture is not complete. We must picture a country possessed of very few schools, and what schools that were open, were open only to the sons of the rich. Intelligence and idealism were impossible for the poor boy, except as he learned them at the family altar. The minds of the common people were on the same low, deadly level which prevailed among the lower classes of Europe. Under such circumstances can we not see how the superior mind would revolt against these sordid conditions? First would come the passion for liberty, and following that, an intense determination that these conditions must be bettered.
Then we are able to recreate the influence of the ancestry of a man like Revere? Many a long evening was spent around an open fireplace, with perhaps a tallow dip candle or two burning dimly on the mantle, while the head of the household told of the tragedy of his flight from the persecutions inflicted upon his people. What would the effect of such a recital be upon a youth like Paul Revere? Can we realize how these traditions would influence his mind, how his boyish imagination would be kindled and how his appreciation of the liberty which the Colonists were trying to work out for themselves in the new world would grow into a veritable passion for freedom? As he grew older he would see the stalwart pioneers around him trying to plant here a new type of civilization, an institution which would insure to every man the utmost of personal liberty which he could expect without infringing upon the rights of others. Can we not see how a youth raised in this atmosphere would be inspired with a desire to promote and further the development of these institutions? With stories of murder and oppression of his people firing his youthful imagination, can we not see that as he grew into manhood his mind would be quickened? Can we not understand how any example of oppression, however slight, would arouse the fighting instincts, and tyrannical injustice become as it were a baptism of patriotism, dedicated to the new home which his troubled soul was finding in company with his fellow refugees?
We must also realize that an atmosphere very like this existed all through the colonies. It was justified, my brothers; these hardy pioneers had fled the Old World where free thought, free speech and free Conscience did not exist. They had come away with hideous memories of their friends and neighbors tortured and hung for the most trivial crimes. Years of tragedy had taught them the sacrifices that men make who stand up for what they believe, for opinion's sake.
It is only when we come to appreciate all of this background that we can understand the fierce resentment in the hearts of the colonial leaders when tea profiteers sought to impose their burdens of taxation, or religious bigots tried to fasten upon the minds of the people narrow ideas the trend of which would be to bring about a union of Church and State. We must picture Paul Revere as one of the central figures in a great drama like this, staged in a wilderness, with enemies both within and without; if we could appreciate what the service of the colonial pioneer really was. To us in our modern day the accomplishment of these fearless men may not loom so large, but in their day and time they performed wonders when they gave their passion for liberty and brotherhood free reign and started in to establish a government by, for and of the people.
Well may we ask, how could they do it? What gave them their breadth of vision? And it is in this primitive setting that we find the answer. The forces of necessity drove them, persecution was behind them and if they did not build their new Temple of Liberty aright, persecution and failure lay before them. In the face of a need like this, they won; they accomplished great things for humanity. They planted the seeds of brotherhood in the fallow ground of a new homeland and we, who are their posterity are reaping the reward.
This it is which places upon us the responsibility for doing in our day what they did in theirs. The conditions which we have to meet are different from theirs. The problems which we have to solve under the complex conditions of modern civilization would look hopeless to them. My Brethren, they would be hopeless to us did we not have their examples before us and were we not familiar with the principles which they applied to their problems in those tempestuous days. We have the same principle, we have the same Masonic atmosphere of brotherhood and we have an even greater opportunity than they had to put these principles into practice and make them live among men today. Ours is the task to maintain the freedom of speech and conscience which they established for us and to see to it that Freemasonry, grown now to a fraternity of men far greater in number than all the people who lived in the thirteen colonies, shall stand foursquare for law and order, for the right to think and worship as we please, and for the perpetuation of those priceless privileges which the Paul Reveres of early America wrought out of their needs and the conditions which faced them, because they had the Masonic vision, the Masonic fervency and the Masonic zeal to build after the Masonic pattern.
- Source: Short Talk Bulletin - Jan 1923